Monday, March 21



Stoner on the charge - Bikedeadline pic 

WINNERS are grinners and from the moment Casey Stoner first tried the Honda RC212V, at Valenica, Spain on November 8 last year, he has barely stopped smiling. The only time he hasn’t looked supremely confident on the Honda was in the warm-up session before the opening MotoGP race of the 2011 season when Repsol Honda team-mate Dani Pedrosa pipped him for fastest time.

But showing a new level of maturity in the opening race of the 2011 season, the 26-year-old Australian bided his time before making his push for victory. As a result he scored Honda its first win in the opening round of a new season since Suzuka in 2003 when Valentino Rossi did the honours.

Not only did Stoner win the opening race of the 2011 season, he broke his own three-year-old race record for the 22 laps of the Losail circuit, shaving just 18 thousandths of a second off his old mark to win in 42m 38.569s at an average speed of 165.536 km/h.

It was Stoner’s fifth win at Losail, his fourth in the MotoGP class. The win took his tally to 24 in the 800cc era, three more than Valentino Rossi.

The Australian started a clear favourite after setting fastest lap time in every practice session, and took pole with a 1m 54.137s effort, not far off Jorge Lorenzo’s 2008 pole record of 1m 53.927s set on the ultra-sticky Michelin qualifying tyres of that era.

Team-mate Pedrosa was the only rider close to Stoner’s practice and qualifying pace, with many predicting a Repsol Honda 1-2. However, defending champion Jorge Lorenzo had other ideas.

He stormed away from third on the grid to be handily placed in the bunch in the first corner. It was no surprise that Pedrosa got the holeshot, but Rossi sprang a brief surprise by arriving in the first corner in second place. He was a bit ahead of himself though, running wide and in a trice Stoner was through to second place. But not for long. Lorenzo barged through to second, then got past Pedrosa to lead across the line for the first time.

That wasn’t to last. Stoner was in front before the second lap was over, and led for three more laps before Pedrosa used the considerable acceleration and top speed of his 800cc V4 Honda to whistle past to lead at the end of lap six. From there he and Stoner engaged in a tense battle for the lead, with Pedrosa in front over the finish line for six laps. Then, just after the mid-point of the race Stoner upped his pace, dropping from 1m 56s lap times into the 1m 55s bracket, and shot past his team-mate. The Aussie reeled off no less than five laps in the 1:55 range to pull clear of Pedrosa, whose lap times eased off at the same time. He had run into a problem with his left arm, something he attributed to niggling worries after the surgery he had last year to correct a badly broken clavicle.

Lorenzo knew he needed to score as many points as possible from this opening round where the Hondas outgunned his Yamaha. As a result, he too upped his pace, and like Stoner, started lapping in the 1m 55s range, got past Pedrosa and established a decent gap over his Spanish rival.

There was no catching Stoner though and just how much faster he could have pressed on, only he knows.

Lorenzo was delighted with second place and although Pedrosa hung in there for third from fast-finishing third Repsol Honda man Andrea Dovizioso, he was clearly not happy, in marked contrast to Stoner, who just could not conceal his delight.

Dovizioso, who had tailed San Carlo Gresini Racing’s Marco Simoncelli for much of the race before making his move in the closing laps, finished fourth, then it was Simoncelli in fifth from Ben Spies, who had spent too long back in seventh looking for a way past Rossi on the Marlboro Ducati.

Spies finally made a pass stick on Rossi, and pulled away at nearly a second a lap to close on Simoncelli but ran out of time to further improve his points tally.

Not only did Stoner break his 2008 race record, he also carved 13.53 seconds off Rossi’s 2010 winning effort.

Lorenzo, on an out-gunned Yamaha, turned in a ride worthy of his world champion’s status, taking 9.1 seconds less on his way to second place than it took him on his way to runner-up behind Rossi last year.

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